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REVIEW – Power Rangers

Directed by: Dean Israelite
Produced by: Haim Saban, Brian Casentini, Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey
Screenplay by: John Gatins
Story by: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney
Edited by: Martin Bernfeld, Dody Dorn
Cinematography by: Matthew J. Lloyd
Music by: Brian Tyler
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks, David Denman
Based on the Power Rangers and Super Sentai TV series
Year: 2017

 

The film I’d always been asking for is finally here! … Sort of.

… Okay, let me clarify. A few years ago, I’d gotten all nostalgic about my childhood along with some friends, as people are wont to do, and the idea of creating a serious adaptation of the Power Rangers series we’d grown up with became a topic of fascination – at least for myself. I’d always imagined it as being something between serious and openly campy, acknowledging the series’ ridiculous qualities (“teenagers with attitude,” frenetic gesticulating and dramatic declarations prefacing every action, Rita Repulsa and her frequently giant-sized cronies, etc.) and embracing them alongside the aspects that could be made obviously and genuinely awesome (the action, the Zords, the monster battles).

Years later, we got what I always wanted. It’s called Pacific Rim. And it is incredible.

Now, years after that, we now have an actual Power Rangers movie – one that is somehow a more serious film than Pacific Rim, which is actually based on the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series – Zordon, Alpha 5, Rita, and everything.

The film starts off introducing us to some backstory, which actually expands upon the series’ mythology, something that’s sure to make fans of the series happy, particularly since it not only explains some of the design logic behind this incarnation of series villain Rita Repulsa, but also provides some logical links to future developments that I’m sure fans are going figure out right from the start, particularly given the departure in her own design. The plot then fast forwards a few thousand years, where we are introduced to the film’s stars, the teens who will become this era’s Power Rangers – only they’re not the Rangers yet. This is an origin story, after all.

No longer the banal do-gooders they were in the original series, however, these teens’ attitudes are definitely in need of some serious adjustments – they’re loners, trouble-makers, and even destructive. Only Billy, who is “on the spectrum,” seems to have no actual character faults, though his quirks do make him unable to make friends easily, and so he gives into peer pressure fairly easily. Conveniently, fate brings the five of them together when one of Billy’s experiments results in the discovery of five individually-colored glowing coins. Much like the Green Lantern rings, these coins sought these kids out and lead them to an ancient being known as Zordon – and just in time, too, as the villainous Rita Repulsa has been awakened from her extended slumber and is seeking to conquer earth, beginning with the tiny city of Angel Grove. Of course, it’s up to these kids to step up and save the day, but they need to learn to fight together as a team – with some help from Zordon and his robot pal, Alpha 5.

I’m sure you know where the rest of the film is going with this. The troubled teens struggle to work together, resulting in a series of disappointments before learning to embrace one another and work as a team. Yadda yadda yadda. It’s predictable, in other words. Even compared to the 1995 film, this one’s rather lacking in the variety and surprises department, and even lacks that movie’s action scene quota. That being said, it’s … surprisingly effective at developing likable protagonists. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there’s really not a bad performance in the cast. I actually grew to like this incarnation of the team, and there was even a time when I actually empathized with their struggle and pain. Now, it’s not the deepest movie – it doesn’t reach even John Hughes level of insight into the lives of movie teens – but it’s effective for what it is. I actually kind of want to see these guys in future adventures.

Most of all, however, I want to see more of Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa. Despite the perfect casting of Bryan Cranston as Zordon and Bill Hader as the voice of Alpha 5, Banks is definitely the movie’s most entertaining casting decision. Rita here is equal parts camp and creepy, somewhere between the Wicked Witch of the West and The Witch, and while fans of the original will certainly miss the cackling, conically-endowed Rita of the series, I actually appreciate the angle they went with this movie more than I expected to based on the pre-release stills and trailers. The design choice and backstory they’ve chosen actually hints at what’s in store for the future installments, which surprisingly got me excited. It’s like I was 8-years-old again and waking up early on Saturday, eager to catch the next episode. Sure, I knew it was silly even then, but I liked it all the same.

Naturally, there’s still a lot of problems with what’s on screen. I appreciate how much the movie cared about having empathetic characters, given how annoying they could have been, but there really should’ve been more humor and action early on and not just in the climax of the film – this is still a freaking Power Rangers movie, after all. The Krispy Kreme product placement is also, by now, a well-known distraction, going so far as to be a key factor in the big conflict. I don’t think this would’ve been nearly as glaring had the movie embraced the camp factor, but it’s borderline obnoxious in this more serious incarnation.

And then there’s the overall design of the whole thing. While I can give Rita’s design a pass, given the backstory and promise of a more classic design in the future, I despised the bio-organic look of the Rangers’ suits, their Zords, and Alpha 5. They not only follow the trend of “busy design = realism,” they are also pretty grotesque, like mobile, alien versions of Bodyworlds displays. Alpha looks like a sea slug stuffed into a floppy mecha that he uses while on dry land. In some ways, it’s worse than what Transformers and the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies did, as you can almost understand the logic behind those franchises’ designs – complicated transforming robots and giant mutant talking turtles probably would be similar looking, even if it’s unnecessary in a movie. Here, it’s just baffling, since the Rangers are supposed to be wearing armor and the Zords are giant robots, and yet neither looks like what they are and are also hideous and poorly rendered CGI, independent from all that. I really don’t get it and pray that the sequel sees fit to retrofit everything. Perhaps even poke fun at its predecessor, ‘cause, again, this is a franchise in need of a sense of humor.

At the very least, though, the fact that I cared so much about these flaws and am still open to the further adventures all the same shows you how much better a movie this is than its aforementioned and far more cynical contemporaries. It’s not quite the self-aware, trope-embracing funfest I had in mind all those years ago in my mid-20s, and I can’t tell you whether or not kids these days will be as engaged with this when the sillier, more colorful, and more child-friendly TV series is still going strong in whatever incarnation it’s on now. At the very least, however, it’s just good enough to still appeal to me even now that I’m in my jaded 30s – two decades after I gave up on the series (around the time when they adopted boring cars as their “Zords”), which is saying something.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2.5 / 5

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